Fairfax County’s minority-owned businesses employ 80,000, generate $14b in annual revenue

With 41 percent of its businesses owned by minorities, Fairfax County’s strong diverse-business community is a key component of what makes this the economic engine of the Washington area and the Commonwealth of Virginia. African-American History Month is a good time to spotlight the robust minority business community here and how the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority (FCEDA) and partners work to make it even stronger.

Karen Smaw, director of diversity business investment and entrepreneurship at the FCEDA talks about minority-owned businesses in Fairfax County.

According to the last Economic Census, African-Americans own nearly 9,000 companies in Fairfax County. In addition, the county is home to 25,000 Asian-owned businesses, 14,000 Hispanic-Latino businesses, 42,000 woman-owned companies and 12,000 veteran-owned firms in the county. Together these firms employ 80,000 people in the county and have total annual revenue of $14.4 billion.

“Not only is Fairfax County a great place to start and locate a minority-owned business, it’s a place where all businesses can thrive,” said Karen Smaw, director of diversity business investment and entrepreneurship at the FCEDA.

Smaw oversees the “Entrepreneurship 101: Starting a Business in Fairfax County” workshop that has been held almost monthly since 2003. Held at FCEDA headquarters, the workshops often are standing-room only and have drawn more than 5,000 attendees who are thinking about starting a business or want to take their company to the next level.

Karen Smaw, director of business diversity and entrepreneurship at the FCEDA, conducts a recent “Entrepreneurship 101: Starting a Business in Fairfax County” workshop. (Photo, FCEDA)

The FCEDA conducts the sessions with partners including the county government, the Springfield-based Community Business Partnership, the Virginia Department of Small Business and Supplier Diversity and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). The Fairfax County chapter of One Million Cups, a networking and support group founded by the Kauffman Foundation, is a partner as well.

The FCEDA provides help to prospective and current business owners to identify possible funding sources, site location assistance, assistances with certifications, and SCORE business counseling/mentoring. Smaw also has organized the Procurement Academy series of workshops for companies interested in government contracting as well as workshops for firms interested in exporting goods and services.

“I have worked with FCEDA on many occasions,” said Staci L. Redmon, owner of Strategy and Management Services, Inc. (SAMS), a technology and digital transformation services company based in Springfield. “They were helpful with providing real estate and market intelligence information when I was looking for office space. On several occasions I have been invited to participate on business panels for events hosted by the FCEDA. This too has helped with our business development and brand building efforts.”

The FCEDA also collaborates with many minority-focused organizations in the community that aim to generate economic strength and prosperity for businesses of all backgrounds.

For example, three minority-focused chambers of commerce are located within FCEDA’s headquarters in Tysons: the Northern Virginia Black Chamber of Commerce, Asian American Chamber of Commerce and Virginia Hispanic Chamber. The FCEDA helped the three chambers create the Multicultural Chambers Alliance, which helps them cross-market and conduct events together.

“Fairfax County is a great place for minorities to do business simply because there is so much growth in Fairfax. Any time there is growth, there is opportunity,” said Corey Holeman, director of the Northern Virginia Black Chamber of Commerce. “The FCEDA is certainly committed to helping minorities participate in that prosperity.”

Looking back at 40 years as a Fairfax County business owner, Robert P. “Bob” Rogers said Fairfax County is a great place for locating a company thanks to a more inclusive atmosphere and because of strong support for startups from the FCEDA and the county government.

“The FCEDA has been instrumental in helping me not only with my businesses, but also with the Community Business Partnership,” Rogers said. He has owned several businesses in his four decades here, including a mid-sized government contracting firm that he founded, grew and sold. Currently he owns a digital marketing consultancy.

“Business, like everything, starts at the top. During the time that I’ve been here, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has been very pro-business,” Rogers said.

Access to capital is key for starting and growing a business, Rogers emphasized, and businesses here have a good chance to get access to capital, including for minority and women-owned businesses.

The availability of tech talent here is also beneficial, Rogers said. “Northern Virginia Community College and George Mason University are tremendous feeders of talent into the local workplace.”

“Fairfax County is a great place to do business because of the whole climate in terms of everybody working together to grow and develop business, and particularly making sure that minority and women owned businesses get their fair share of federal government contracting dollars,” Rogers said. “There is a big emphasis on that in Fairfax County and I think that it’s paid off.”

“And, Fairfax County is also an excellent place to live and grow a family,” Rogers added. “My three children attended Fairfax County Public Schools and Virginia colleges. The county’s population is very diverse and inclusive. It’s a great place to live and to start a business.”

Click here to learn more about FCEDA services and programs for minority business owners.

February 27, 2020